Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, called for the head of Customs and Border Protection to “step down”after a congressional delegation visited the New Mexico stretch of border where a 7-year old girl died after crossing the border illegally and being taken into custody.
“There was nobody on board who could offer any kind of medical help to her and no medically trained personnel,” Castro said about the bus used by Border Patrol to transport the child among a large group of migrants from Antelope Wells to Lordsburg.
On Tuesday an 11-member delegation of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus re-traced Jakelin Caal Maquin’s final steps, starting in the remote area where she and her father crossed the border with a 163 other migrants near the Antelope Wells port of entry in New Mexico’s bootheel.
Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico led the delegation during the tour of Antelope Wells and the Border Patrol’s Bounds Forward Operating Base. The Democrat said there is a “water contamination issue,” no running water and two portable toilets for Border Patrol agents and the migrants they take into custody.
The delegation then took the same hour-and-half drive to the Lordsburg Border Patrol Substation for a tour of “what I would describe as inhumane holding cells, where we saw children with adults in overcrowded facilities with a shared toilet, completely open,” Luján told a news conference.
“A young girl and her mother wanted water in one of the holding facilities but there were no cups,” Luján said.
Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, said, “The (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) would not allow animals to be treated the way human beings are treated in this facility.”
“There are two sets of victims in this facility. The women and children who are here being processed and the officers that are having to process them,” Green said.
Green and other members of the delegation said agents need more training, resources and equipment to deal with the “humanitarian crisis” on the border. He wants a “Marshall Plan” to provide aid to help Central American countries stem the flow of migrants.
The delegation called for an independent investigation of the circumstances surrounding the Guatemalan girl’s death less than 24 hours after she was taken into custody.
Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., an emergency room doctor with training in humanitarian disaster aid, said the investigation should include health care experts.
He said vulnerable migrants like children should have their vital signs checked when they are taken into custody.
Ruiz noted the delay it took in getting emergency care for the child who stopped breathing and had to be revived in Lordsburg.
The congressional delegation was not allowed to talk to the agents who took the child and her father into custody Dec. 6. But CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan accompanied lawmakers on the border tour in New Mexico and answered their questions.
“Based on my conversations with him, based on his conduct, I believe he should step down,” Castro said. “We have also asked the question, ‘When was Secretary (Kirsten) Nielsen, his direct boss, made aware of Jakelin’s death?’ and ‘If she was made aware of the death before Congress was, why she didn’t report to Congress that this had occurred?'”
Congress requires CPB to report a death in CBP custody within 24 hours.
Hidalgo County Commissioner Darr Shannon watched the news conference and angrily interrupted Castro, who she said is “blaming Homeland Security for everything.”
Rep.-elect Xochitl Torres Small, who will represent New Mexico’s 2nd congressional district, was part of the delegation that toured the border but she left before the news conference.
“In the wake of this tragedy it is essential that we work together to keep this from happening again,” Torres Small said in a statement released by her office. “It was clear that we need increased medical personnel, equipment, and screening to responsibly take custody of those who present at the border, especially children.”